Imagine getting ill enough through no fault of your own, that your life would change to the point where you needed to rely on the state for your basic well-being. Your house, bills and mobility all depend on support from the state.
Now imagine that after becoming ill and disabled, you decide you want to give back to your community, by representing everyone including disabled constituents, at your local council. After all, we’re told equality and ‘access’ for disabled folks to the corridors of power is important to a fair and balanced democracy right?
Well, apparently not for Paul Johnson from the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.
Paul, a prominent Labour activist in Sheerness wanted to stand for election at Borough Council level in his local ward, with plenty of backing from fellow Labour members and supporters. Only upon application earlier this month however did Paul find out that if he became a councillor, he would lose so much of his financial support from the government; that he would probably end up homeless.
Paul said of his initial research:
“I asked friends from various groups and on my Facebook, if anyone had been a councillor on any of the various disability benefits like myself who is now on ‘PIP’, ‘ESA’, ‘CT’, ‘HB’ etc. The feedback I heard from many people, was that some disabled councillors on benefits were left with just 37p per week to live on after expenses were deducted from benefits.”
Politician’s expenses are a major issue creating distrust and anger amongst the population at large, after the many political expenses scandals continuing to this day. However in Paul’s case, he quite literally has nothing to gain, and everything to lose if he accepts those expenses or not…
“In just a few days, my research has already made me pull out of local politics because I have to fund my mortgage. My wife and I personally have to cover mortgage payments of £500 every four weeks, with the rest of my mortgage covered by benefit payments of £240 per four week period, a total of £740. If I become a councillor, I would have that benefit cover stopped and any further cuts would mean I would probably become homeless.”
Paul’s research suggested that in order to even stand a chance of keeping his housing benefit, whilst being in the role of councillor, he would have to face the DWP for an ‘ATOS’ style assessment to become a ‘permitted’ worker. Given that the DWP has in the past has approved grievously ill and maimed people as being ‘fit for work’, and even people who had recently passed away, it’s no surprise that Paul would want to protect his family by avoiding these grossly unfair and unfit assessments.
On these assessments, Paul told us:
“When re-evaluated on this basis, it is classed as a new claim. Generally, benefit claims are more than likely to be less favourable when reconsidered, and many would lose money from Housing Benefit and Council Tax, as well as Income Support and especially ESA. What scared me most, was that I would have to contact DWP to become accepted as a ‘permitted worker’. Who on disability benefits can take the risk of cuts and punitive measures? Who therefore would want to contact DWP about volunteering or working as a local councillor?
Paul’s situation is not unique, as disabled people up and down the country are faced with a wall of silence and inaccessibility to politics and democratic office. Isn’t it about time that our government, and the people of the UK generally, joined the 21st century and supported courageous citizens like Paul in their electoral missions?
Paul summed up his position very eloquently:
“I am just an average man who has many issues, but I would like to pay back somehow to my local community, and I simply cannot.”
By Ben Timberley for Nye Bevan News